Many crimes against food are committed by pubs claiming the dubiously desirable title of 'gastro'. Carefully sourced artisan produce are carelessly piled into sub-standard baps. Bags of breaded mushrooms and nuggets are pulled from the freezer, deep fried, and shovelled onto local organic leaves, melting them to pondweed. A sandwich of home baked ham with a fine Irish cheese will sit on the same plate as the mass produced claggy coleslaw from the catering tubs. The intention is there, but the Devil, as they say, is in the detail.
An Púcán does not claim to be a 'gastro' pub, but its food is now so much better than many who do. Located just off Eyre Square on Forster Street, it had in the past a well deserved reputation as a great traditional Irish music venue, sometimes hosting Irish dancing. I had not often darkened the doors of this establishment for fear of one of these displays breaking out in front of me.
After a major refurbishment, the all new An Púcán opened its doors to the public on June 27 this summer, under the new management of Conall Ó Ciobháin, charming Kerryman and Gaelgóir, Phillip Duignan lately of The King’s Head, with Tom Joyce overseeing the kitchen. The old facade remains, now painted in a cheery 'look at me' yellow. The front room, which had been decked out as a traditional Irish pub, has been completely transformed into… a different traditional Irish pub, airier with well spaced tables, comfortable seating and cosy snugs, it remains faithful to its heritage.
The whiskey menu is the jewel in the crown
The back bar houses a small stage and everything else you would need in your ideal 'man cave' with big screen sports, live bands and DJs, beer on tap, and an altar built entirely from Jameson bottles to worship at. Indeed, for those simply looking to imbibe, the jewel in An Púcán’s crown is its whiskey menu with extensive tasting notes. Once confined to the old man in a cloth cap at a wake, Irish whiskey is now one of the world's trendiest drinks. Following the plethora of whiskey bar openings in the US, its sales have increased by over 400 per cent in the last decade. With 150 bottles of uisce beatha to choose from here, you can try a snifter of everything from Scotch to Japanese whiskies.
In the past An Púcán was a reliable spot to get a “full Irish” and the hearty all day breakfast remains, well priced at under €10. The rest of the menu includes traditional dishes like Irish stew and bangers and mash, as well as a good selection of fresh, healthy, salads and a wide range of daily specials and vegetarian options. The extensive choice of seafood is where head chef Tom Joyce’s passion comes to the fore. Choose from steamed wild mussels from Kelly’s of Kilcolgan either meunière, a la crème, or Provençale. Pacific oysters come natural, grilled or fried in a light, crisp, citrus batter. It is clear to see that his last few years in Moran’s on the Weir was time well spent, here are simple things done well, commitment to the best of Irish produce and confident, uncomplicated, cooking. Pub food elevated.
New lease of life for An Púcán
We sampled the Galway Hooker beer battered lemon sole, a nice change from the usual cod. At €13.50 it was a more than generous portion with two crisp, perfectly cooked, fish fillets, homemade tartare sauce, and plentiful salad and chips. The girls passed on the children’s menu in favour of a bowl of mussels and the Milltown Malbay crab claws cooked in garlicy butter - pescatarian lollypops for children. We were amply supplied with salad, chips, and Irish stout and cheddar cheese soda bread for mopping. A hefty beef burger came with a dollop of Ballymaloe relish on highly burnished brioche bun, almost shiny enough to see your reflection in. There was no room for dessert on this occasion but I was pleased to see they offer an Irish cheese board as one of the options.
The new lease of life for An Púcán, along with the continued success of The Gaslight and the recent opening of Loam bring new dining experiences at all levels to this side of Eyre Square. Given the restaurant’s location at the intersection of Galway’s transport hub, it is an ideal recommendation to give to any visiting tourists keen to sample Irish cuisine and hospitality at its finest. An Púcán promises to be a great addition to the east side. Go for the seafood and stay for the craic.